Winter car care

By Allen Penticoff

As I write this, northern Illinois is experiencing freezing rain. This of course means that our roads will be covered with salt in order to make them passable. We can’t get by without it, and I’ve been places where salting does not take place – and getting somewhere is treacherous if not impossible.

My cousin from southern California does not really understand what this means in terms of vehicle ownership. I once described an analogy he might understand, “drive your car into the ocean, back it out then not wash it for a month.” Except our salted roads are worse than that.

To counter this corrosive combination of water and salt, I wash my vehicles more often in winter than in warmer months. As long as we are not about to have another round of bad weather that will be bringing out the salt trucks, I head on down to the car wash to hose off the salt with a freshwater spray. I usually only use the coin operated (and now credit cards work too) wash, paying particular attention to underneath the vehicle and the suspension and wheel wells. I usually don’t bother with using soap, since it uses up more of the coin operated time and doesn’t really help get the dirt off all that much. My aim is to get the salt off.

I include spraying the radiator from the outside and inside as well as hosing down the engine compartment. Make note of any electrical boxes that specifically warn against being sprayed. Your mechanic will love you for this – to work on a clean, not corroded engine makes service much easier. Following the spray down I pull out of the bay if it is busy and a line is waiting, then I used one of several soft terry cloth hand towels I brought along. I wipe clean the water around the door seals and the bottom inside edges of the doors are important as they are often the first place rust will start happening. Far too often I see folks lovingly wipe down the whole outside of the vehicle, but ignore the insides of the doors. Gotta get it all.

Next will be wiping the windows and lastly the general bodywork. This makes the towels very dirty. I have a lot of them and save them in a bin until a day to wash them all in the washing machine (with no fabric softener in washer or dryer). Hopefully you have good floor mats that soak up the salty slush melting off your feet. If not, the wet carpet will eat through the steel floor under your feet. I have fixed Fred Flintstone-sized holes there in other people’s cars.

This is just my basic technique for desalting. If I really want to get the crud off the vehicle, it takes a bucket of good soapy water and a brush to scrub at it on a day with above freezing temperatures. I find it takes more than one good scrubby wash to really get the road filth off from a season of winter travel.

But the payoff is a vehicle that will last you a long time and reward you with reliable service. February will be my 1992 Honda Civic’s 25th year in service since we bought it new. It has been washed like this every winter since the day we brought it home. Vehicles seem to thrive on such attention. And of course the day comes you trade in or sell it; the vehicle will be worth more because it is not rusting away.

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